A revolutionary new approach to representing reality in art invented by artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in 1907/08 in which the artists aimed to bring different views of their subjects (usually objects or figures) together in the same picture, resulting in paintings that appear fragmented and abstracted
By breaking objects and figures down into distinct areas or planes, the artists aimed to not only show different viewpoints at the same time and within the same space but also to emphasize the two-dimensional flatness of the canvas, instead of creating the illusion of depth. This marked a revolutionary break with the European tradition, which had dominated representation from the Renaissance onwards, of creating the illusion of real space from a fixed viewpoint using devices such as linear perspective.
Cubism was partly influenced by the late work of Paul Cézanne in which he can be seen to be painting things from slightly different points of view. Pablo Picasso was also influenced by African tribal masks which are highly stylised, or non-naturalistic, but nevertheless present a vivid human image. ‘A head’, said Picasso, ‘is a matter of eyes, nose, mouth, which can be distributed in any way you like’.
The generally agreed beginning of cubism was Picasso’s celebrated Demoiselles D’Avignon of 1907, and the name ‘cubism’ seems to have derived from the comment of the critic Louis Vauxcelles that some of Georges Braque’s paintings exhibited in Paris in 1908 showed everything reduced to ‘geometric outlines, to cubes’. Cubism can be seen to have developed in two distinct phases: the more austere ‘analytic cubism’, and ‘synthetic cubism’, which is used to refer to the later cubist work in which the artists collaged real elements such as newspapers into their paintings and experimented with cubist constructions.This was the start of one of the most important ideas in modern art, that you can use real things directly in art. Cubism was the starting point for much abstract art including constructivism and neo-plasticism. It also however, opened up almost infinite new possibilities for the treatment of reality in art.